PracticalTAS on the future of Smash video making

Oddball 2021-09-23 01:28:57
  Today, Esports Heaven was able to sit down with the content creator known as PracticalTAS. First question, you only recently made your return to video making after almost a year. What’s your current perspective on content creation? Do you see yourself taking that long of breaks again soon, or do you want to get back to consistent content making? That depends. I have a lot of things on my plate that are of higher priority than video making. I would very much like to get that higher on the priority list. But there just are a few things that are above it unfortunately. Just Smash, or life in general? Both. It's not a great excuse, but an excuse nonetheless, that it’s been more difficult than expected to get video work done during the pandemic.. But even beyond that, if tournaments start ramping back up, and we start doing more rankings, and the offline Smash stuff starts becoming a priority, then that's another thing that goes above video making. Also, it isn't as true of a gap as it looks, looking at my YouTube directly. If you check out the playlist, PracticalTAS World Record Break the Targets Runs—during my break I broke maybe a dozen TAS world records in Break the Targets. I eventually added all of those into a compilation, and submitted that to the TASVideosChannel. And so in that sort of lull from a public perspective, I was actually doing a lot of passion work on the Break the Targets TAS. And over the past couple years, we've actually knocked the total time down several seconds on what were already very, very optimized levels. Last year you released the history of Melee’s Peach Break the Targets Record. By your standards, that was a very long video. Do you see yourself doing that in the future? My logic is that a video length should be proportionate to the amount of content that the topic can fill. So I went into that with the thought of making it an hour long video, because I had what I felt was an hour's worth of content. For other topics, I might have 20-25 minutes—that's more the sweet spot I want to hit going forward. But I don't think the video length is the independent variable. I think the video length depends on how much interesting stuff the video has. I would get comments on my Peach documentary about say, "I watched this, didn't look at the timer, and I thought 20 minutes passed when it was an hour and it was over." And that's my goal. My intent is that there's no downtime in a video, there's no point where you're thinking it's dragging on. And if I have an hour's worth of footage, and zero downtime in that hour, then I will make an hour long video. If I have 15 minutes of footage and zero downtime, then I'll make a 15 minute video.
I talk with creators about the amount of investment. I imagine that history video took a crazy amount of time. It got over a million views. But when you compare it to something like your Kirby video, that I’m sure was a lot faster to make, and was almost 8 times as successful. Is it purely out of passion that you go for those really long pieces of content, or what is your mindset on it? The Peach video did take a ridiculous amount of time. It wasn't full-time, but I started researching in August, and the video came out in December. There was about five months from start to finish there. Regarding the Kirby video, that one honestly was just an idea that I had where it's like, "I think that this idea will hit the YouTube demographic and just get into the algorithm and do really, really well." On the Melee side, it's definitely more passion. For Peach in particular, that was a story I had wanted to tell for five or more years. Before I even started, it was something where I was like, "I just wish somebody would go through and actually do this because this story is amazing." And then eventually, after I had become more established as a content creator, I just got the thought in my head, "Why can't it be me? Why can't I be the person to share this with the masses?" And eventually, I asked, "What's stopping me?" The answer ended up being nothing. My other perspective is that for the more passion based videos, I'm making it for me first. My first audience is me, my most critical critic is me. And so if I put that up, and it got zero views, I still would have been happy. It seems like you very much go through phases in your content for the most part. Do you see yourself returning to any other types of videos at the moment, or are you very much content with making TAS videos? I have a documentary that I've been putting off, because I had a little bit of a mental block on it. I kind of found a way around that mental block this past week. I haven't gotten started back on the video yet (again, real life stuff), but yes. The thing is, though, because it's not at the top of my priority list -- I don't make promises on when things are coming up. But yes, the answer is I would like to make more documentaries, and I would like to be in a position where that becomes less of a time investment relative to the actual amount of content that gets released. But I keep finding really interesting stories that take a massive amount of time to do justice.     Has there ever been anything that was too out there? Like a topic that you thought was personally interesting, but something you don’t think would have mass appeal? There have been ones where I've thought, "I could do this, but it will take even longer than, say, the Peach video to get the amount of content that I would need to make the final product worth it." For instance, here's a rough estimate for a pure TAS—one of my older videos, the Fox versus Marth, and Marth versus Fox two player TAS. I played both characters, and they pretend one is a bot and the other is a human. So I'm actually performing perfect inputs on a keyboard and imperfect inputs on the GameCube controller controlling both characters at the same time. Those videos are roughly one hour of work for four to five seconds of final footage. So I wouldn't say there are videos that I've rejected based on not thinking that they'd be interesting enough. I know from creators like AsumSaus, Wirtual, or Summoning Salt—with the right angle, you can make anything interesting to a mass audience, in my opinion. So I don't think that entertainment is ever the limiting factor. I think that opportunity cost is the major limiter as well as time investment. The fact that a lot of your videos are successful despite being on obscure topics then—did you ever expect this kind of response to them? Absolutely not. No, I put my first video out back around 2015. There were a lot fewer resources for the more advanced techniques. So my first video actually was a very short demo of Marth's perfect ledge dash. And I literally made it for myself—I saw videos of people failing to ledge dash, and I saw videos of people ledge dashing imperfectly, but I had not seen a TAS of somebody doing a perfect ledge dash with Marth, and seeing exactly how fast that would look. So I made that video for myself and then I said, "I'll put it up on YouTube. Might as well share it with people." So I put it on Reddit and the MIOM Facebook group. The Reddit post just blew up—there was an audience. I did a bunch more characters and started branching out into other stuff. When I went into choreographed TASes was when I had a bit of a leap. For my choreographed TASes, they were things that had never been done before. I think that's when I saw that I could be that sort of entertainment informational channel, because that wasn't common at the time. And then seeing that those videos actually were getting significant views got me interested in seeing where I could take things. Do you see yourself expanding to other games in any capacity? What ones do you think would be of most interest to you? Honestly, I am very much content at the current moment staying within the Smash sphere. I'm familiar with a lot of content creators that do Smash full-time who are concerned about the long term viability of Smash. They're seeing across the board, the general slow decline of a game as it gets farther and farther from release. And then as soon as it becomes farther and farther from the last patch—in preparation for that patch, they're planning (or in some cases, started) on executing pivots to become more general content creators. And then I guess assuming that there's another Smash game coming out in five years—if they're able to cultivate a more general audience and then pivot back to Smash when the new game comes out, then they can explode. Which is I guess the path that Alpharad took, because he got big in Smash 4 and became a general YouTuber, and his content just exploded when Ultimate came out. I wanted your perspective on the “brain-drain” that’s been talked about a lot with the Hot_Bid mess. You’re someone that currently works a full-time job despite being a popular Smash content creator—do you think there’s a future for people wanting to go full-time into Smash content creation, or do you think it’s going to suffer the same sort of “brain-drain”? I think that if you're funny, you can use a video editor, and you can invest the time to get started, there's definitely always going to be a chance for you on YouTube. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that everybody try it, because there's a lot of luck involved, and a lot of outside of the game stuff that you need to do (thumbnails, titling, etc.), but I don't think the brain drain applies the same way to YouTube as it does to competitive Smash. Because YouTube: there's the business model, the growth factor, the scaling. And the primary concern—how do we work under a publisher that doesn't work with us—is not a concern, because Nintendo has granted YouTubers the right to use in-game footage for their videos.  So the brain-drain I don't think is in a similar state on the YouTube side. Eventually, of course, if you want to keep scaling, then you scale to a more general gaming brand. But I wouldn't consider that a brain-drain. I wouldn't say, "Alpharad, you're not a Smash YouTuber." He still is. He just does other stuff, too. Whereas there are a lot of people that have left competitive Smash. Like talking about Tafokints, for instance—he's working at CLG right now. He's not doing Smash stuff at all. He's doing League of Legends. So the brain-drain in that sense I don't think applies to YouTube in the same way. What are the main pieces of content that you look to for inspiration for your own work? There's so many. There's so many fantastic creators—I'm always looking for new sources of inspiration. There was a video a while back by Javed Sterritt: OCARINA OF TIME - A Masterclass In Subtext. It's a Legend of Zelda video talking about the script of that game. What that taught me was, "If there's a topic that you find interesting, you can extract a narrative out of it and turn that into a very fantastic video." There was one from Ahoy about the first video game. It intrigued me not just for the content, but also his presentation. It was done as if it was on an old-school analog projector, where he's actually physically moving the slides in and out of place. Pannakoek2012 for sure. He was one of the first that made me see that the mechanics of the game could be something that makes people excited—his video Watch for Rolling Rocks - 0.5x A Presses (Commentated) is a masterpiece. Kadano obviously, for showing the same with Melee that you could get in-depth on content and be entertaining as well as educational. You didn't have to sacrifice either side. More recent ones obviously include Wirtual, and I love what my friends at the Melee Stats Podcast and YouTube channel are doing with their videos. They do a very similar thing to my documentaries with their own more focusing on the competitive side. I'm always looking for different creators to inspire me. What advice would you give to upcoming Smash video makers? Take a look at a channel that you look up to. Scroll back to where they were when they were your size in their video history. Look at their videos back then, and look at their videos today. See how much they've changed. See how much they've grown. Because you can't just look at where somebody is right now if they have been doing this for years. You need to look at where they started. And thanks to YouTube having that timeline for you—you need to look at what they've changed over time, what stayed the same, and how they've grown. Ideally, where do we see PracticalTAS in five years? If you had asked me five years ago, "Where do I see PracticalTAS", I definitely would not have said having a one hour long YouTube video about a 10 second mini-game with a million views. I would not have said leading the Melee rankings team. I would not have said the person who did the math for the first new tier list in several years, or having 8 million views on a video about Kirby jumping. A lot can change in five years. If I'm still around in five years, I think that's a win. Because in five years, I don't know if I'm still going to be making videos even. I don't know if I'm still going to be doing Smash stuff at all. I might have become part of the brain-drain and moved on. I hope it's not the case. But if five years from now I'm making videos about the new Smash—because maybe there's a new one in five years—I think that's exciting because it means the brain drain hasn't gotten to me. If in five years I'm still doing Smash stats, I think that's very exciting, because that means that the scene is much more sustainable than it is now. And so if we're not looking to the future, from a sustainability of this scene perspective, I think five years from now I'm probably not doing this anymore. Maybe I'm still doing YouTube, but have retired from the stats side. But if we want to talk five years from now, we have to start with, "What are we doing today to make the scene more sustainable?" Because as the old guard get older (this isn't idealistic at all) the opportunity cost of doing things that they don't make any money off of becomes greater and greater. I'm privileged to be in a position where what I'm doing is making me money (obviously not a full-time position or else I would be doing it full-time). But if in five years, we're not growing in a way that makes people want to stay, then people are just gonna leave. They're just gonna keep leaving the way they've been leaving.  You'll probably still see Mang0 and Hungrybox around, because they're in a position where things are sustainable for them. But I don't know how many other people will still be around in five years that have been around for the past five or the past 10. So to answer your question more direct—it's a bit of a cop out, but it depends on years 1, 2, 3, and 4.    - -- Check the Break The Targets TAS World Record Playlist here. Check the TASvideos channel here.
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator.  

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